Why should It Use Up the Ground?

The Hook

Some of Jesus’ parables are frightening.

The Book

His parable in Luke 13:6-9 certainly is. The owner of a vineyard was seeking fruit from his fig tree, but when he came to it he found none. He told the Gardener, “Three years I have sought fruit from this tree, and still I find none. Chop it down! Why should it use up the ground? The Gardener says, “Let it remain for a year, and I will dig deep and put in fertilizer. If it grows fruit then it is good; if not, then chop it down.” ~Luke 13:6-9. This parable Jesus told is alarming when you realize the tree is given to mean you.

The Look

The Vineyard owner does not merely like trees for decoration. He wants fruit, sustenance, profit, continuation. He does not want the earth gone to waste. Indeed the word in Greek for “use up the ground” gives the idea of taking all its usefulness so that it is wasted and useless afterwards: like a soiled tissue, or a an empty pizza box. Another important thing about the phrase “use up the ground” is that the ground is the word for Earth. In Hebrew and Greek the word for earth, ground, and dirt art synonymous. A possible rendering of Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew is “In the beginning, God created the [ground] and the [sky].” It is much less a rendering of a material planet here and now and an immaterial place somewhere far away where God’s throne is, as it is talking about the concrete and immaterial reality that makes up life today around the world. In the Old Testament this idea of Heaven and Earth is vital to understanding the whole story, and God’s plan for a new Heaven and Earth in both Testaments.

The Took

Jesus gives a a story about what life is worth and what is worth ending life for the sake of life. The Gardener and the Vineyard owner in this paragraph demonstrate the Justice and the Forbearance of God.

JUSTICE: says “This tree belongs to me and it is not doing what it is meant to do. It must be removed and extinguished because it is using up the good and making it bad!”

FORBEARANCE: says “This tree is worth investing in and waiting a little bit longer to see if it is fruitful, so that this good thing may produce more good. If however, after further investment and patience it does not improve, then we will know for sure that the problem is with the tree itself, not the soil or the owner. So then it will be right for it to be removed.

“Behold the Kindness and Severity of God.” ~Romans 11:22. God is true, and requires a good accounting; He is also loving and gives all he can. In the end, all glory goes to His name, and all creation be filled with the glory of His goodness.

Application:

  1. That being said, I believe this parable is meant to draw our attention to the earth, the tangible concrete reality in which we live. “Why does it use up the ground?” is another way of asking, “Why does this even exist?” God has poured out his blessing on Humanity, and made a good world, and has charged mankind with the task of making making it good extremely! (See Genesis 1:28-31). This is part of what has been called the cultural mandate given to humanity. All humans are called to continue the growth of God’s good world.
  2. Specifically for Christians, God has called us to be the salt of the earth to preserve it. We are to take the good and make more good of it in concrete tangible ways. As the Holy Spirit guides us, He breathes life into all the the dead and dying things and from them creates new things through which His life can nourish others. Believers must learn to be led by the Holy Spirit so they can be a part of this preservation of Life.
  3. Specifically for Christians, God has in mind for us to invest and make good those things which will last unto eternity. This does not negate the need to accomplish physical restoration and healing of our concrete tangible reality. Jesus after all did not only preach about the life to come, nor value purely the souls of humankind, but also their physical needs he met and their infirmities he restored. All this he did with a view to the praise of His Father who expects a good harvest of Earth and Heaven before he makes all things new. So then, believers must not work for temporary ends of the kingdoms of men, but rather for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ which is filling the whole earth, starting in the hearts of men, and flowing out from them in all that they touch.
  4. For all Humanity, we must learn to fear the God who made us, planted us, owns us, and seeks results from us. He is forbearing and kind, and He is also exact and just. His patience will come to an end, and He will act for the good of His beloved people and creation, and the sake of His name, so that all the world may give praise to the Lord, “for He is good, and his Love endures forever.”

The Great Exchange

“I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading me shame
I’m laying them down for the ____________________”
I’m trading my sickness, I’m trading my pain
I’m laying them down for the ____________________”

Joy of the Lord

We each carry burdens, cares and pains: family responsibilities, money struggles, health worries, global fear, job stresses, marriage anxieties, and more, and somehow in the song we “lay them down for the joy of the Lord.” That sounds nice, but to me it smacks with fantasy. It sounds like, “I’m going to ignore these “tangible” things in my life so I can be happy thinking about God for a while.” That doesn’t really help, because SOMEONE has to carry these burdens! They’re important to me! If I don’t who will?

But what if we could trade our sorrows with God. Not like “I’m trading my sorrows for the joy of the Lord.” or maybe a little. I’m talking about trading sorrows the way true friends do.

Example: Person A has a relative who has passed away, and he really misses her. He pours out his heart to his friend, Person B. Person B Listens and receives the care of Person A, and Person A feels much better. Then Person A asks Person B “How are you doing?” Person B tells his Person A that his marriage is on the rocks and spends time pouring out his heart to his friend. Person A receives and empathizes with his friend. Both friends are encouraged and comforted not only that they have been heard, but that their friend the other Person counted them worthy of their trust. Is this not the essence of true friendship?

What if we could have that kind of relationship with God? A relationship where we share our cares and concerns with God, and God shares His cares and concerns with us?

Objection: Now you might say, “Whoa, hang on. God doesn’t feel cares and concerns the way I do. God is all powerful and all-knowing. He doesn’t feel worry or fear the way I do.” I understand this objection, because it seems like I am saying that our feelings of fear and worry about our cares and concerns are just like God’s feelings about His cares and concerns. It is true, God isn’t as powerless or clueless as we are, and in his perfect character does not feel fear or worry, but He does have feelings of care and concern. And believe it or not, He cares more and is more concerned about the things in your life that are alarming you than you do. Please bear with me, while I unpack this idea.

Biblical Friendship with God

First of all, it is Biblical to have a friendship with God where we share our concerns with God, and we take on God’s burdens.

1 Peter 5:7–“Cast all your cares upon God, for He cares for you.” God cares.

Also, look at the life of Moses, He joined God in His work to bring Israel into the promised land. He did this through a sharing of his burdens with God, (saying the work was too much, and God raised up 70 to help him.) and God sharing His burdens with him (Numbers 14:21 “As I live all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD.”) The exchange between Moses and Yahweh on Mount Sinai is an evidence of this give and take friendship, and as a result the people of Israel were saved.

There came a point in Israel’s History where God was looking for this dynamic again in the time of the Exile in Babylon, God spoke to Ezekiel saying, ” The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy and unlawfully exploited the foreign resident. I searched for a man among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land so that I might not destroy it, but I found no one. So I have poured out My indignation on them and consumed them with the fire of My fury. I have brought their actions down on their own heads.” This is the declaration of the Lord God.

Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

in John 15:13-15 Jesus says Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

Ananias who visited with Saul saw a vision of Jesus, and God spoke to him and shared a mission with him, and Ananias shared his concern with God, and God replied with further explanation. A sharing of care and concern both ways. Paul and John the author of Revelation had stories like this in their lives.

This relationship is Biblical. But what does it look like?

It does not look like simply reading your Bible. In the Bible we learn the thoughts of God, but we don’t experience the emotions of God. We can imagine them, but we don’t really experience them without something more intimate than reading the pages of the Living Word of God.

It DOES looks like prayer: Committing your cares to the carrying of an all powerful God, and then being totally freed up, waiting to receive His care upon you.

Now, for those of you who objected earlier, you might be further thinking, “Why would God do that? He doesn’t need us.” And it’s true He doesn’t need us to carry his burdens for his own sake, but he does need us to carry his cares for the world’s sake. Let me share with you two little-known principles about why this is the case with God that I hope will make sense: The Smell of God, and the Method of God.

The Smell of God

This idea comes from the verse, in 2 Corinthians 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”

Have you ever had a person talk about God who the words didn’t really feel right? Like there was something off in their manner, motive, or ministry that just didn’t “smell” right?

Whatever is in your heart “scents” your speech. As Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart _____________” (The mouth speaks) Your heart will always smell like what is in your heart. If it is your own cares, your words will smell like those worries and cares. But if you have given your cares to God and have received God’s cares, then your words will “smell” like Him. As I said earlier, You cannot receive God’s cares from God Himself thru the Bible. Only Prayer lets you do this. If you know your Bible from the first to the last verse, and don’t spend time sharing your heart with the Author, and letting the author share his heart with you, you will just smell like a dusty bookshelf. And if you have hearts carried by your own worries, your words will be “scented” with those worries which will overpower God’s aroma, and people won’t be able to smell God on you.

The Method of God

God is out to reconcile the World to Himself. To do that He chose a creature of Heaven and Earth to be the bridge between Him and the World: Human. And not just any human, the Human: Jesus Christ. Who is the body of Jesus Christ? The New Humanity: Believers in Jesus Christ. So God’s method is to draw the world which sins and rebels against Him back to himself, using people to represent Him to them. This is God’s Method. And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then God seeks to reconcile the world to Himself through you. You are God’s method.

Now, if God is out to reconcile the world to Himself, and he uses his people to do it, then He needs to fill those people up with His love and truth.

To sum up, God wants you to cast your cares on him, so that He can carry the weight of your concerns and cares so you don’t need to be burdened by worry, fear, anxiety, and doubt. But God wants you then to receive His cares, His heart, and His concerns from Him so that through you, God can reconcile the world to Himself.

Aren’t God’s Burden’s too Hard to Carry?

And just like Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” By Burden, he’s saying my cares and concerns, the things I have a heart for, it is easy to carry.

Really? You’d think the opposite. People have taken up what they know are things God has said He’s concerned about, and they are so over-burdened and grumpy! Have you noticed? Someone says say, “We need to go and feed the homeless; there aren’t enough people feeding the homeless, I’m going to feed the homeless. Ugh, this feeding the homeless isn’t much fun, but it’s okay because this is what God wants, and God will help me do it.” And then they go and talk to somebody and either say “You should feed the homeless!” and try to guilt people into joining, or announce, “I feed the homeless!” for some saintly reason of “Oh people look at my example” But they are self-righteous. Do either of those things smell like God?

If this is you, and you’re wondering why you don’t have joy in it, or if you know somebody who comes across as guilting and self-righteous, the reason probably is, that you or that person haven’t REALLY given up your cares and concerns. You or they’ve just found the cares and concerns that you can carry that God has authorized.

This is one of the reasons why as sinful human beings, we have this need to worry and fret and not give up control. I think that we are afraid that if we give our cares to the Lord, then we’ll discover that He doesn’t really love us. We’re afraid that if we stop trying to do the “necessary” thing, then we won’t be able to earn the love that we are trying to deserve. This is why we get so weary and heavy laden, because as soon as we give up our concerns and cares to God, then we don’t have anything left to show how important and valuable we are. All we have left is God to show us how important and valuable we are.

Reading Matthew 6, you can hear that You are valuable and important, but you’ll never really know that until you give up all your cares and concerns to God, and wait to see how He responds. That’s the risk. Because then He will finally have a chance to tell you the truth, and He will show you His heart for you, and if you wait long enough, He will also show you His heart for the world. And with the showing of that Heart for the World, will come the sweet secret of those who know Intimacy with Him. This is also the badge that proves people are carrying God’s burdens rather than their own.

Joy.

This is the gentle, patient, persistent flame that can finally breathe when the burdens of life are cleared from off the wick of our heart. This Joy is based in so many things: it’s because you know you are loved and accepted and God has just shared His eternal love and truth with you that is so good it cannot be beaten! Through this great exchange of your cares for God’s, you will be entrusted with the heart of God. That example at the beginning of two friends. That is a hint of what it is like. And through this great exchange, the World will come to experience God’s love and power through you.

Now, just a warning, because some people may not want this. Doing this will result in one of two things: bringing the world closer to salvation, or bringing yourself closer to your own crucifixion. Likely both. For Jesus it was both, so why not for us? The more God is truly known in the world, the more people will have the chance to totally accept him, or totally reject him.

Some Practical Considerations for Doing this Great Exchange.

  • First of all, in American culture we are so good at self-soothing. You already can think of the things you depend on for your comfort and recuperation. Deny yourself those self-soothings you do whenever you are burdened and worried and anxious about your cares and concerns, and give them to God instead. Turn the TV off, put the snack down, put the Phone down, and go to God.
  • Second, set aside some time in the day to pray and talk with God regularly. Our First ministry isn’t to our family or ourselves. It’s to the Lord. I recommend before anyone else wakes up or after everyone else is asleep.
  • Third, “Go aside.” Moses saw the burning bush and turned aside to see the great sight, and when God saw Moses had turned aside, then he called out to him. There’s something about relating with God where He needs to see you. Maybe He wishes to know that you are seeking Him for His own sake, or maybe it’s just a lot easier to talk with someone when they leave the business of where they are, and stop long enough to fully receive what they say. Don’t go to God in between things. Literally stop whatever you’re doing, go somewhere private, and pour out your heart to God, then wait to hear His response.
  • And Fourth. Give your burdens over to Him. There are probably countless ways to do this, and some of them are well known: say them out loud, think about them and remember a Promise from God’s word, write them down methodically, write them down crazy fast.
    • For me, I have found it helpful to do it with a physical action or a visualization. A physical action is important because any doctor will tell you that worry and stress is a physical thing. If your shoulders are slumping because a heavy weight is on them, go to God, and shrug that burden off your shoulders, and pick it up and hand it to God. Where is he? right in front of you? Up above you. You can say, “God, can you please get that?” This is NOT as crazy as Harvey the Rabbit. God is really there right? Then talk to Him like He is really there!
    • The other way I mentioned is Visualization. Picture your worry and then in your imagination give it over to Jesus. Let it take whatever natural shape it takes in your imagination. it can be a big glob of poop, it can be anything, and then the conscience can help your imagination rightly understand what Jesus does in response to that. These are just methods I have tried, but there are many others.
  • Fifth consideration: It’s probably going to take longer than you think depending on how much time you have already spent casting your cares on God, Each one will need to be sorted and dealt with. If you feel like you’ve given all your concerns over to God, and one keeps popping up, you probably missed one. Keep going til your mind and heart are ready to stare your friend in the face with boldness because he has stayed with you the whole time you’ve unloaded on him.
  • Sixth when He shares with you keep His Confidence.

The Situation

The world today is a mess. And the sin of humanity is the problem. Romans 3:11–“There is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks for God.” As it was in Paul’s day, so it still is today. But if the sin of humanity is the problem, the salvation of humanity is at least part of the solution. It doesn’t sound very different from Ezekiel’s day. The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy and unlawfully exploited the foreign resident. I searched for a man among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land so that I might not destroy it, but I found no one.”

First, I address the church as a whole: without the heat of prayer, the Church will be lukewarm and ineffective. Unless you pray in this way, the world will not know Jesus through you.

Come on! Rise! Go! Find Him! Seek the Lord while he may be found!

God’s Rules Interpreted for Kids (A GOSPEL!)

God is the One who made everything, and he loves everyone. He needs us to do the right thing and stop doing bad things. These are His rules.

  1. There is only One God: Him. No other gods are allowed.
  2. Don’t make statues of God or worship them. God is represented by living humans, not nonliving stone or wood or metal.
  3. Treat God’s name respectfully.
  4. Make sure to take a day to rest to remember what God is really like.
  5. Respect your parents, so you’ll have a long life.
  6. Don’t kill someone, or want to kill someone, value other people’s lives.
  7. (This one is *mainly* for grownups) Don’t share your deepest heart or body with someone other than the person you’re married to.
  8. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, but respect other people’s stuff.
  9. Don’t try to get people to believe things that aren’t true; instead help people believe the truth.
  10. Don’t wish you had what other people had, but be thankful for what you have.

Above all the two most important rules which sum these up are: Love God with your entire being, thinking, and doing, and Love the person next to you as much as you love yourself.

And for the most advanced rule followers: As Jesus Christ has loved you, love other people in the same way! (This one requires a bit of study and experience to follow, because that’s how you learn all the ways that Jesus Christ has loved you.)

Why this is important

The reason why all of this is important is because all of us have done wrongs things, and the older we get the more wrong things we will do. Remember that God has to punish people who do wrong things in order to be fair. He will judge everyone in the whole world unless they are willing to ask God to forgive them, to say they’re sorry, and to stop doing those bad things. The punishment for sin is death and God’s standard for who gets punished is if they match up with Jesus’ perfect obedience. I can’t obey God perfectly like Jesus did, and neither can you.

Now, He is fair, but He is also merciful. God sent Jesus not only to set the standard, but also to give his life on the cross to take the place of anyone who wishes for God to forgive them. That way God gets to be both fair and merciful. Those who ask Him to forgive them, He forgives. Not only that, but He also gives his Holy Spirit to those who ask for him, to help them do what is right. Only those who have the Holy Spirit living in them are able to obey God perfectly.

God has a plan for all of this. God wants people to be filled with his Spirit so that He can bring people everywhere back into a good relationship with Him. Then once he’s got all the people who will stop sinning, and start obeying on board, He will burn up this old earth and sky and make a new one where there are no bad things and no people who do bad things anymore. If you ask God to forgive you and give you his Holy Spirit to help you do the right thing, you too will be allowed to be in that New Earth and Sky. And God will build his house on earth with them, and they will all live and reign in the new Earth like Kings and Queens forever and ever. If you don’t, there is an fire that never dies that will burn up all who do not ask God to forgive them, and receive his Holy Spirit. But if you do this, you will be called a Christian.

Now, the life of a Christian is hard, because the rest of the world is sinning against God and doesn’t want to serve God, but if we do what Jesus did, we will show the rest of the people in the world how God really loves them and wants them to repent so they can have a good relationship with Him again.

Rapacity and Repentance

Rapacity is such a striking concept, according to Dictionary.com

  1. given to seizing for plunder or the satisfaction of greed.
  2. Inordinately greedy; predatory; extortionate:

This word is closely akin to “rape,” and yet it is the very thing Jesus accuses the leaders of the Jewish religion, the Pharisees of being.

In Luke’s Gospel, after the disciples ask Jesus why his disciples don’t ceremonially wash their hands. the Lord said to him,

“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of [rapacity] and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?

Luke 11:39-40 (NASB brackets mine)

The indictment is not on the external world but doubly about their internal world. The two things mentioned: Rapacity (the craving for more to satisfy the self) and wickedness (lack of ethical moral character) are things I myself as a sinful human being can identify with. In fear, I crave the acquisition of my own entertainment so I don’t get listless, my own food so I don’t get hunger pains, my own acceptability in crowds so I don’t feel ostracized, my own money so I can avoid being forced to do anything. I crave the satisfaction of the self. I know what it is to serve God in a skin-deep way, only inside to leave the more precious, secret and important things for myself. The result of my own Rapacity has led me to situations where I am less than ethically or socially or morally care-filled, loving, and true.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. This is because the rapacity and wickedness of man has, does, and will destroy God’s messengers.

How do I know? Because of what Jesus says when he switches from talking to the Pharisees to the Law-experts. The Pharisees and the Law-experts were of the same sin. He tells them:

“Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs.

Luke 11:47-48 (NASB)

They are the offspring of those who killed the prophets, the rapacious and the wicked. It was this rapacity and wickedness that God recognized and said in His wisdom:

“I will send to them prophets and messengers and from out of them they will kill and persecute.”

Jesus quoting the Wisdom of God (Luke 11:49, translation mine)

Anyone who thinks that the days of persecution of God’s people are finished is shortsighted and foolish. It is the one who recognizes the wisdom of God that see the rapacity and wickedness of man, including the rapacity and wickedness of their own heart are the real villains in this world. The craving to serve the self and the lack of character has rendered the very object of God’s desire–the heart of His beloved creatures– the very weapon of the enemy used against God to wound Him.

The rapacity of man makes war against God and His people.

The call now to you, if He gives you the conviction of this rapacity and evil in yourself, is: repent! If you are like the Pharisees and your outer world is good while your inner world is rotting away with greed, and all the dark treasures you hold close for your own self-service and self-glory, then Jesus’ words to you are these:

“Charitably give what is within you, then behold everything is clean about you.”

Luke 11:41 (NASB)

The way to repent of this selfish desire to attain for self, is to give those things that are most special to you to the Lord and to the poor by extension. Then you will be like your Father who gives the deepest truest treasures He loves to show the World how much He loves them.

One final warning–do not leave your rapacity unrepentant: it makes you an enemy of God.

The Happy Christian

How to be a Happy Christian in the World Today

A message from Luke 6:20-26.

  • There are a lot of passages that seem far removed from today’s world, but this one is very close to reality.
  • Passage is Luke’s shorter account of the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6:20-49. The longer one is Matthew 5.
  • The audience is: Jesus’ disciples. How many disciples did Jesus have? Vs. 17 (Not just the twelve)
  • I’m not going to use the word “disciples), going to call them: students.
  • Jesus has spent the night in prayer, and the day healing the sick
  • And Jesus lifts his eyes to see his students, and speaks to them.

He presents a contrast in the opening verses which is a different contrast from Matthew 5. In Matthew 5, it’s all about “Blessings” and laws that believers used to hear were updated to what they were now supposed to follow. In Luke 6, Jesus contrasts “Blessings” with “Woes.” In both, he is addressing his students (Again, not the 12, but all of those who are following Him, and learning from him.)

Now, since we are followers of Jesus who get to listen in on Jesus training the twelve, we can place ourselves right in this audience alongside the listeners of His day, and we can hear that Jesus is speaking directly to us who are seeking to follow Him and be like Him.

Here are the two lists side by side.

Luke 6:20-26

I did not realize that Jesus was talking to his students when he gave both lists. As a Christian in America, I see myself on the side of the list I do NOT want to be on. We spend so much time accumulating wealth, serving our own satisfaction, our entertainment, and the good opinion of men, when all we’re doing is securing deep pain for ourselves in the future. In living for the present, we sacrifice the eternal future God promises to those who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, ostracized, ridiculed, and cast aside because of Jesus.

Is Jesus saying that wealth, satisfaction, entertainment, and good reputation are evil things? No. Neither is being poor, hungry, weeping, and hated and ridiculed necessarily good things. He’s pointing out two paths of those who follow Him. One path involves being comfortable, worldly, unbroken, and well thought of, the other is living in want, poverty, sorrow, and ignominy for Jesus’ sake.

Some I could see may start to object. Can’t I serve Jesus and still be comfortable? You can, but you miss out on over-exuberant joy. You miss out on the deep laughter that comes from honest hearts, you miss out on the true satisfaction that smells of eternity, and you miss out on the Kingdom of Heaven. And that is a tragedy of which Jesus said, “Deep pain to you.”

But why can’t I be happy now, and later? Why can’t I enjoy my comfort now, and still be exuberantly happy later?

What? Have you forgotten your mission? Why are you here anyway? You are here to represent God on earth. Does God accumulate wealth for himself, or does God make himself poor so that others can be rich? Is God deeply satisfied with his own food, or does God forgo His own satisfaction, so that others can have theirs? Does God seek his own entertainment, or does God weep for those who are in anguish and agony? Is God well thought of by the world, or do people cast Him aside like a crumpled up trash-wrapper? Which God do you serve? You’re made in His image, so why don’t you look like him?

Jesus said in this passage, “A student is not above his teacher; but everyone after he has been fully trained will be like his teacher.” This is why the students of Jesus in America today are in such a sorry state: because we have ceased growing to look like our teacher.

Either, you will spend your time, resources, and livelihood–which means poverty, hungry, weeping, and ridicule– for something that will last forever –God’s work to bring about good in this world and the life to come. Or you will use your time, resources, livelihood to procure something that in the end will mean nothing. You’ll feel comfortable now, but deep in your heart you will know that you wasted your time.

Remember what Jesus said to his students. You are the salt of the earth. You’re the only thing making this world flavorful. Don’t give up your saltiness.

Illustration: 2 pretzels passed out at the beginning.

This is the world with you wealthy, satisfied, entertained, and well thought of. (Eat the saltless pretzel)

This is the world with you being poor, hungry, weeping, and rejected. (Eat the salted pretzel)

Repent. How?

  1. Confess your sins to God and cease from them.
  2. Pursue Him devotionally in prayer.
  3. Obey His commands in whatever situation you are.
  4. Keep doing this until you have found your joy in Him again.

Rejoice

An imagined quote of a Pastor friend: Preach to me from the Greek: from the Book of Philippians.

Here the words of Paul to a people who understood them: 4 Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε·  πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε.[1] Paul talked to people who were giving constantly—giving, giving, giving, expecting nothing in return. And he called them to “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say rejoice.”

This call to rejoice is a command to find joy in every circumstance in which they find themselves. And he relayed this command because they found themselves in a position to rejoice in the Lord, because they gave, gave, and gave constantly.

Another thing about Joy to consider is that in the Old Testament, the Psalmist described the restoration of the fortunes of Zion (Psalm 126) and he said “Rejoice!” This was a testimony to the nations that God had done a marvelous work, and it was so that the nations would be drawn to this joy. The hands of the people of God had been emptied and then filled, and all the people could do was rejoice in God who had given them all these things.

My charge to you, dear friend, is not to seek to follow this command at first, but first to find yourself in a place where you could be commanded to do thus. This is a joy that is only known by those who know what it is to be emptied, and used up, and depleted of all that one has, except the Lord. And once a person has given up all of this for the Joy of selflessly giving, he discovers the treasure that awaits him to sustain him in his giving: “Rejoice in the Lord Always.”

This is the secret that the Psalmist knew when he spoke “There is fullness of Joy in the Presence of the Lord.” (Psalm 16) Rejoice In the Lord always. This promise of “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) This promise of “I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Is the priceless treasure of every believer. Ravi Zacharias quoted G. K. Chesterton when he said “Joy is the central feature of life for the Christian, but sorrow is peripheral; because the fundamental questions of life are answered by his faith. But for the unbeliever, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, because only the peripheral questions are answered and the central ones remain unanswered.”

While Chesterton expresses the intellectual side of Joy, I add that this centrality of Joy is because at the believer’s heart is a priceless treasure of the presence of God which is the source of rejoicing as he gives up everything else he has. This is the Pearl of Great price which Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to in Matthew 13:45-46.

Now, how do I know that this is what Paul meant? By looking at the next verse. 5 τὸ ἐπιεικὲς ὑμῶν γνωσθήτω πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις.  ὁ κύριος ἐγγύς.[2] “Let your gentleness be known to all men; the Lord is near.” What I see here, is just as God bore witness to the nations of His goodness when he restored the fortunes of Zion, so He has sought that the joy of a Christian’s heart might be a light that would bless the joy-less, sorrow-full people of the world in darkness. This is why the command is to “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice!” This is why Jesus said, “No one lights and a lamp and puts it under a basket, but does so to give light to all others who are in the house.” (Luke 8:16)

But you may ask, “What does this look like for me? Does this mean I have to walk around with a big smile plastered on my face all the time?” No. We know that when Jesus, our Joy, walked among us, he did not selfishly show off his joy. He carried his joy into people’s situations as he bore with their griefs and carried their sorrows. He was so deeply confirmed in his Joy that to weep with those who wept He did gladly. And His gentleness was demonstrated to all men “for the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And we too, are to self-lessly rejoice in God, glorifying Him as the true source of life and joy, and to do so meekly, gently, mercifully because “the Lord is near.” And He “is near to the brokenhearted.” (Psalms 34:18)

The heart of the matter, according to St. Ignatius of Loyola, “Sin is unwillingness to trust that what God wants is our deepest happiness.” We have come to disbelieve God wants our true Joy because we are unwilling to find our true Joy in Him. It is convenient to ignore His presence and seek after whatever can offer us significance, satisfaction, or contentment on our own terms. This is the problem of our pride and the false spring, dry of living water resulting in our lack of joy. The answer is much more simple. The application of the matter is,

  1. Make sure you are in a position that you can find joy in the Lord. How? By examining your life for anything you would be unwilling to give up for the Lord, to the Lord in a moment. If you hold onto anything with greater force than you hold onto Him, your joy will never be full until you relinquish it. If you are bound in any circumstance you have bound yourself chasing after Joy on your own terms, get free: addiction, ambition are a couple. This is the imitation of Christ that Paul called believers to make of himself. Consider 1 Corinthians 4:8-16. And again in this letter to the Philippians, in 3:17. Consider Philippians 3:8-18.
  2. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Find Joy in Him by spending time with Him. By understanding Him, by Obeying Him, and following Him. By listening to His voice, by cultivating a life that is lived by the truth that His loving eyes are on you and He is very, very near to you at all times.
  3. “Again I say rejoice!” Even in the midst of the greatest tragedy, stress, unfortunate circumstance, even blessing, and enjoyment, you will turn to Him who is near you, and thank Him as the source of your Joy. Remember to stop and remember His presence with you, and cast your cares upon Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
  4. “Let your gentleness be known to all, because God is near.” Do not let your rejoicing be the cause of greater sorrow to others. Instead, do as Christ did, and love people with your Joy by even laying it down to grieve with others, and show people love by sitting with them, embracing them, empathizing with them. And discover the joy that comes through giving more of yourself to others, this joy which God finds in doing the same with us. After all Jesus said, “It is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
  5. Finally, let this joy in your heart be bright so that those around you can see the God who is real, and who is indeed the truest source of all joy, and then be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15) As Piper said, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” (Desiring God)

Launching Questions:

  1. What has been the common attitude about Joy in the Christian churches in which you’ve been? Explain your feelings about that attitude.
  2. How have you felt pressured to put on a brave face for other people even when things aren’t going so well?
  3. Paul talked to the Philippians about rejoicing as they gave. What is something you gave that brought you great joy to give it? Or what was something you were given that you could see it was a joy to them to give it, even if it was given sacrificially?

Interpretation Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to rejoice in the Lord? What are some ways you have done this or seen this done around you?
  2. Have you ever considered that there might be certain commands in Scripture that must be followed before others can be followed?Example: “First give sacrificially of yourself, then Rejoice!” What are some of the commands that are the first steps for a believer to take before they can move on to fulfilling the next commands?
  3. Why does the presence of the Lord bring Joy?
  4. Why does the presence of the Lord cause a person to be gentle and humble?
  5. How did Jesus navigate Joy in God’s presence, and sorrow in the presence of so many hurting and suffering?
  6. What is the difference between selfless Joy and selfish Joy?
  7. Why is it important for us to rejoice in the Lord?

Application Questions:

  1. In life, there are many things that can take a place of importance next to God, and oftentimes they become more important than our relationship with Him. What are some things (even good things) that have held great importance of your life and prevented you from being fully satisfied with Just Jesus?
  2. What are some things you need to give sacrificially to others?
  3. What are some practical ways you can rejoice in the Lord?
  4. What are some ways you can let your joy help when reaching out to people who are in pain, suffering, or sorrow?

[1] NA27 Php 4:4. [2] NA27 Php 4:5.

The Bible: The Analogy of the Three Testaments

Recently, a friend of mine told me that he believed the church should prioritize Paul’s teachings over Jesus’. Another friend told him that can’t be right. After all, if Paul learned from Jesus, we should prioritize Jesus’ teachings right? I believe this is a wonderful question and I believe the answer can be found by comparing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.

Old Testament

In seminary I learned that the Old Testament has three sections (Torah or Law, Prophets, and Writings) but the last two of those sections are exposition or explanation of the first section. One professor put it this way. “The Old Testament is the Torah and the rest of it is exposition of the Torah.” Another way to say this is that the Torah gives us the definition, the boundaries, the seed of what is to come, and the rest of the writings (The prophets and the writings, or just “the Prophets” for short) just explain how it happened in real life. Example: In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, “You are going to go into exile, and God is going to bring you back.” (Deuteronomy 29-31). Read 2 Kings 17. You’ll see why He sent them into exile, and read Nehemiah and you will see what happens when God brings them back. Again, I will say it. The Old Testament = Torah + Exposition of the Torah.

Now if this is the case, which should we prioritize in the Old Testament? My answer is this: The Old Testament is set up in such a way that you need both of them to make sense of it. If you just prioritize the Prophets, chances are you’re not going to have much guidance to understand the plot of what’s happening. Why after all, did Elijah shut up the heavens in 1 Kings 17? (The Prophets) Because in Leviticus 26:18-20, God said he would shut up the Heavens if the people disobeyed. (The Law). If however we just prioritize the Law, then we will get lost in semantics and not know how it is rightly to be applied. Example: Leviticus 25 said you should give your land rest every 7th year. (Law) but we see in the Prophets what happened to the land when the land was NOT given rest every seventh year. (The Prophets) Within the Old Testament God does not leave us in the dark but gives us not only the seed of the tree, but also what the tree looks like when it is full grown. The seed of the Tree is God reaching out to love Israel. The Tree itself is God being faithful, and the people of God being faithless. We need both of these to rightly handle the word of Truth. We also need to use both rightly so we don’t get the cart before the horse.

New Testament

Now, this wonderfully simple pattern of understanding God’s word couldn’t possibly be the pattern for the New Testament could it? What major sections of the New Testament are there? The Gospels and the Writings (History, Epistles, and Prophecy) In essence, we have a repeated pattern of the New Law and Prophets.)

Does it work the same way? Is the New Testament, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament exposition on the Gospels? Yet again, we find that God’s Word in the New Testament not only gives us the seed, but also the Tree. It shows us the Teachings of Jesus in their powerful demonstration and the proof of their truth, and then we are given in the writings what those teachings applied looked like in historical and instructive ways. Paul applied the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6 during the sermon on the mount about worry when he wrote tot he Philippians, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” But Jesus’ teachings about how to treat your neighbors would not make as much sense to us who are not Jewish unless Paul and Luke expounded on them for us who are the nations outside of Israel.

So then, which do you prioritize? The teachings that directly apply to the nations (The New Testament Prophets) or Jesus’ words themselves (The New Law)? I see how I would lean personally, but once again, I must keep the whole in perspective. Just as the Torah is expounded in the Prophets, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word, so the Gospels are expounded in the Writings, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word. Both have a relationship that must be rightly kept in humble interpretation of each other.

But still there is one more layer to peel back, which I find rather wonderful and sobering

Our Testament

Now that we have a canon of Scripture, the Church is interpreting the Scriptures to the World in every culture, tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We have, in both Testaments, the pattern of the house, and now we are responsible to enforce, to explain, to bring into reality God’s Word as it is revealed through both Testaments. The question left to us is how is this Scriptural revelation of God going to brought to full expression in the world. Or to put it in another way:

What is the Kingdom of God today? Our blueprints are established, and the writings of the Prophets both old and new have shown God’s way of bringing His word to fruition. It is the power and leading of His Holy Spirit that brings God’s kingdom here on earth among his people. And this Kingdom is going to be the final testament to the nature and character of the God we serve before He comes again.

What a tremendous privilege and responsibility!

To show it visibly, I came up with this Analogy of the Testaments. Can you solve the analogy?

What is the answer?

The rule of humor is you give two similar things one after the other, and then the third, you bend slightly to get a laugh. May the church not make God’s Kingdom the biggest cosmic joke that will make those watching to mock our God! Instead, may we be led and empowered by the Spirit to make of the church what the Spirit seeks to make of the Kingdom of God.

Burnout

In the famous The Tortoise and the Hare story, children are taught that slow and steady wins the race. I wish ministers were taught that fast and steady brings the burnout.

One sign that God’s servants are hooked up to a finite power source such as coffee, food, screen time, entertainment, hobbies, relationships, or the praise of men is burnout.

The Almighty power of God will never burnout, and its power outlet is found on the side of the wooden beams of Jesus’ own cross.

If you’re not carrying His cross, you are powerless. If you are not deriving your every sustainence from the Word of God, you have only pseudo-power. E. M. Bounds was right, prayer is where the power is, but that’s just because prayer brings a person into contact with the Almighty power of God. Only the humble will actually be strengthened by it though.

God is a Father, Lord, Friend, Priest, and the One who has borne everything you have carried; He knows. The guilt from burnout needs to be kept in the presence of God. It is mere pride which drives a man away from God out of guilt. Humble guilt runs to God, not from Him. If you can’t hear Him, then for His goodness sake run to Him. Leave every net behind!

If the shell that the body of Christ is wearing now–the exoskeleton of denominational Christianity which is only affordable in a pluralistic, materialistic, and person-centered culture like America–is tiring out the very soldiers who live to sustain it to the point where they are morally, spiritually, and societally compromised, then we either need better leaders or a better exoskeleton. I’ve got a feeling that God wants both.

Exodus 40: The Tabernacle and the Glory

Exodus 40:33–Thus Moses finished the work.

Explanation: In this passage, the LORD, Yahweh, God of Israel speaks to Moses and tells him, “Arrange everything in the Tabernacle just as I have instructed.” Vss. 1-15. Then in vss. 16-33 Moses does what the LORD says. Vs. 33 says, “Thus Moses Finished the work.” The amount of detail that went into Exodus 25-31 where the Tabernacle instructions are given, and then from Exodus 35-39 where the instructions are carried out sounds redundant in that they are so similar. And once “Moses had finished the work” then the glory of God filled the Tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting.

Principalization: There is a pattern to the spiritual principle of life which seems evident in multiple Scriptures– a natural order in which God works.

  • In Genesis 2:7– When God made man, it said, he formed man out of the dust, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And Man became a living soul.
  • In Genesis 7:1-15– Noah did everything according to what God commanded, And in vs. 16, Yahweh closed the door of the ark behind him.
  • In Genesis 14 and 15, it was after Abraham refused the reward of Sodom that God deepened His covenant relationship with him.
  • In Joshua 1-6, God’s directions were followed precisely, and God miraculously brought down the walls of Jericho.
  • In 1 Chronicles 28:11-19, the Temple instruction was passed from David to Solomon, and once the temple is completed in 2 Chronicles 7 the Glory of God comes down.

The order that seems to be shown in these passages is this:

  1. God gives a commandment.
  2. His servant obeys.
  3. His servant finishes the work.
  4. God’s glory and power show forth.

If there is any lack of even one of these first three elements the fourth cannot be. A complete obedience to the God who commands is the prerequisite for God’s glory and power showing forth.

Interrogation: In light of this pattern– First all on earth must be arranged; then Heaven comes down, the question I posit here is the same question Phineas’ wife asked in 1 Samuel 4:21 when she named her son after she heard the Ark of the Covenant was taken and Eli the High priest died:

Where is the glory?

In Exodus 40:38 the writer said, “Throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD as on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”  If we are in a time of spiritual day, where is the cloud? If we are in a time of spiritual night, where is the fire?

If Jesus came to be Immanuel, God with us, and promised that he would never leave us or forsake us, where is the presence of God which shattered fortified walls? Where is the breath of life in the body of Christ? Where is the power from on high with which the first church was clothed in the upper room at Pentecost? Where are the tongues of flame that melted all languages barriers back into one people like before Babylon?

When I as a citizen of America attend the local assemblies here in my hometown of Ocala, FL my answer is this:

Wherever it is, it is not here.

My father once told me there is a very fine distinction between faith and presumption. I believe that in these passages I recognize that the difference between faith and presumption in the following stories:

In 1 Samuel, King Saul lost God’s precious anointing for Kingship, because he disobeyed God. Samuel rebuked him and said, “Has Yahweh as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For Rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.” Saul lacked faithful obedience.

In Isaiah 1, The Kingdom of Israel was mocking God by worshiping Him while living a disobedient life. God’s response was, “I hate your worship! Clean up yourselves!” and he gave them the key to their redemption in vs. 27. “Zion will be redeemed with Justice, and her repentant ones with righteousness.” What the people lacked in societal obedience, the Lord would restore them through their obedience.

In Matthew 9, Jesus ate with the tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees said, “How dare you?” But Jesus said, “Go learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.'” He then goes on to work Miraculous wonders in the community by raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. What Jesus did have was the obedience, relationship, and love of His father.

From these examples, I can see that the difference between presumption and faith is something that combines righteousness, justice, love, and obedience together:

Humble devotion to God.

Exhortation: I weep with Paul as he recounts the scriptures, “There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.” Who has a heart after God? Who seeks Him, and Him alone? Who wishes only to know Him, yea still to be known by Him? Such a man will pursue The Lord with prayer. Such a man will refuse the bribe of the rich, such a man will despise public fame. Such a man will hate any allegiance or alliance with Evil. Such a man will often walk alone, yet not alone. Such a man will be poor in worldly esteem, but in Christ will know true contentment. God is looking for just one man who will seek Him. One man who will stay with Him. One man who will obey, who will follow, who will weep with Him, and rejoice with Him. One man who will do as he sees his father doing. One man. That’s all He needs. With such a man, the glory of God will rest in his heart, like a seed in the earth. With such a man, the power of God will work in his weakness. With such a man, the holy Spirit will smell of God on him, and he will be that aroma of life to life, and death to death.

Where is the glory? The hope of it is Christ in you.

 

Worship Restoring God’s Image

Background:

Some passages in certain books of the Bible show God’s intentions toward humanity up-close and personal. Exodus 34 is one of them.

The story up to this point is God has established Abraham’s family to represent Him in His fallen world, and he has just delivered them from the nation of Egypt who enslaved them. The people, however, prove to be stubborn and rebellious of heart, when He brings their complaining souls to Mount Sinai and makes a covenant with them. While Moses goes up on the mountain of God for 40 days and 40 nights to get the Tabernacle instructions, the people brazenly rebel right in front of God’s presence by degrading God’s living glorious image to that of a calf made of gold. God is so insulted, He is ready to start over with just Moses, but Moses intercedes, and God changes His mind. Moses punishes the people, but God still will not Himself go with the people, or He’ll consume them.

Moses goes back to God for another 40 days and 40 nights to plead on behalf of Israel, and settle a new covenant with Israel. And here he asks the most daring request a human could ask of God, “Please let me see your glory.” God responds by telling him, he can see His goodness, and hear His name, but He cannot see His face. God prepares the new covenant, and bases it on, not just what he’s done for Israel, but upon His own character. He passes in front of Moses telling Moses His name and all that it means, and Moses responds by hurrying to bow and worship.

The name of Yahweh

How does God describe Himself?

  1. Yahweh–I am. He exists. He simply is, was, and ever will be.
  2. El–God. Creator, Judge, Powerful, Ruler.
  3. Rahum–Compassionate–Characterized by the tender feeling of the heart toward those who are suffering: also the tender feeling a Father has for his children.
  4. Hanun–Graicous–With a face shining full of favor.
  5. Erek-Aphaim–Slow-angered. He has a long fuse.
  6. Rav Hessed v Emeth–Abounding in Love and Truth. All that is in God is full to overflowing with Loyal love and truth
  7. Notser Hessed lelaphim–Keeping Loyal love to thousands. He keeps His commitments to all.
  8. Nose’ avon, vpesha’ vhattath–Forgiving wickedness, transgression, and sin. The Hebrew word Nasa’ has the connotation of Carry. It is not the Hebrew Idea of letting go of a sin, but the idea of bearing with the person who is sinning, transgressing, and acting wickedly against.
  9. V’Nakeh Lo yinakeh— By no means letting the guilty go unpunished. He will justly execute His wrath upon all.
  10. Paqed avon avoth al b’ney, v al b’ney b’nim al Shaleshim, vraveyim. Visiting the transgressions of the fathers on the children and children’s children to the third and fourth.

Dreadful and Glorious. God of the Old Testament showed Moses exactly what He is like.

Moses Response

Moses hurried and bowed down and worshiped. (Vs. 8) For an creature of earth to be thrust back into the fiery mantle from which the dust came, would be less terrifying than for a human made in the image of God, to come to know the one whose image he bears. Fullness of Joy, and utter dread. Worship– This is the melting in God’s presence in which all of our unworthiness is exposed like silver dross, and the Image is recast to that which it was originally intended to represent. The people of Israel cast a calf, and therefore exchanged God’s glory for the lesser glory of a creature of earth. (See Romans 1:23) But here Moses was before God’s glorious good presence and name, and he worshiped. He wrote down all that God commanded him on two stone tablets, and came down the mountain.

The Result

Moses’ face shone radiant light from being in the presence of Yahweh. (Vs. 29) He did not know it, but the people feared to go near Him. Did he glow like the moon or like the Sun?

  • In Daniel, the righteous are told that their faces shone out “Like the brightness of the expanse of Heaven forever and ever.”
  • In Matthew, this is translated as “The righteous will shine like the Sun.” Matthew 13:43
  • In Matthew 17, Jesus’ face shines like the Sun on the Transfiguration mount.
  • Acts 6:15 Stephen’s face looked like the face of an angel, and he looked up and saw the glory of God. Acts 7:54
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18 says of the believer, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
  • A little later in his letter, Paul expresses, “The God who said, ‘Light will shine out of darkness’ is the God who has shone in our heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

It is safe to say Moses’ face shone like the sun. But how? God had restored the image of His glory in humanity in Moses here for a short while. How except by the revelation of Himself and Worship?

Worship is how God restores His image on earth. And if he restores His image on earth, He restores the earth. Only . . . through fire.